A Cunning Plan
Flush with the knowledge that the dragon Belshallam, one of the lords of Scarwall, lairs within a chamber on the eastern end of the castle courtyard, Ser Arlynn crafts an elaborate plan to ambush the creature. At the same time, the Crimson Blades determine that they will rest in the castle rather than risk being ambushed by orcs at the barbican.
As part of the operation, that afternoon Egan seeks out another nearby tree for Barky to animate into a new treant, Groot. The two walking plants proceed to march up the causeway, tearing large chunks out of it as they go. Inside the castle, Slim, Kyra and Ashla fortify the barracks area near the gates that they cleaned out earlier, while Shadowcount Sial, Asyra, and Remmy stand guard.
Outdoors, Zandu casts fly on Arlynn and the two treats and hitches a ride on Groot, while Egan wildshapes into a roc and picks up Laori as a passenger. Irabeth uses her celestial plate mail to grant fly to herself and Princess. Together, they all rise up above the castle exterior and float over to the courtyard. Arlynn’s plan is to set the two treants down there with Egan to keep them company and then ambush the dragon the following morning. It is late afternoon as they make their flight, the summer sun already dipping below the sharp peaks of the Kodar Mountains to the west. The shadows grow long and storm clouds gather on the western horizon.
As the strange procession drifts over the Scarwall courtyard and begins to descend, some of the large, four-armed gargoyles that line the castle heights shudder to life and rise to attack them. Edgar the Raven flutters from Barky’s branches, squawking excitedly. Egan calls on him to warn the others.
Steel and Stone
Three gargoyles converge on Irabeth and Princess. Two others go after Roc-Egan, while the last one attacks a treant, its claws shearing through the thick bark. One of the four-armed brutes grabs hold of Laori, pulling the elf priestess off of Roc-Egan and carrying her high into the air above the courtyard.
“Friendly, aren’t you?” she coos, her hooked mail scraping against his stone skin.
The gargoyle releases her with a flourish, expecting the elf to plunge back to the ground. Laori grins and air walks a step away from him. She hits the gargoyle with slay living, which sends deep cracks through his stony form but does not destroy him, causing her to pout.
Down below, the trio of gargoyles surrounding Irabeth and Princess lash out with a dozen clawed hands, slashing the poor horse to pieces and grabbing the half-orc from her saddle. Irabeth struggles in vain to free herself and save her dying mount, while Arlynn rushes to assist her. Barky also tries to help, but ends up clumsily smashing a hole in the second story of the castle’s south wing.
On the other end of the castle, Edgar the Raven flits through an arrow slit and careens through the barracks area being fortified by Slim and the others.
“Attack!” the bird squawks. “Courtyard! Attack! Courtyard! Nevermore!”
The rest of the Crimson Blades abandon their preparations and race through the castle halls, Slim outpacing the others.
In the courtyard airspace, the gargoyles deal an impressive amount of damage to Groot, but get battered by lightning spells from Zandu and Egan. In the east, Arlynn and Irabeth chip away at their trio of gargoyle foes. The two treants’ tremendous reach also makes it difficult for the gargoyles to maneuver in support of each other, dividing the courtyard into two zones of combat.
High above the main fray, Laori is once again grappled by her gargoyle brute assailant, who seizes her with all four of its arms. In response, the elf maiden cuddles up against him, a twinkle in her pitch black eyes.
“It’s so romantic up here,” she sighs, “away from everyone else. Just you, me . . . and ZK!”
Laori jams her holy symbol into the creature’s face as a wave of negative energy crackles off it in all directions. The gargoyle crumbles into dust under the barrage.
Down below, Slim arrives at the doors to the courtyard and sets up at an arrow slit with the Vindicator. He is soon joined by Kyra, who likewise sets up at an arrow slit, and Ashla, who waits by the doors for an opportunity to join the fray. Remmy, is not far behind, huffing along in her Gray Maiden full plate. She advances out into the courtyard and is followed by Sial and Asyra, who just sit back and watch the battle play out.
Waking the Dragon
As the gargoyles’ numbers dwindle, Zandu lets out a roar to intimidate them. An answering roar issues from the double doors to the east, rattling the very foundations of the castle.
Moments later, the dark bulk of the huge umbral dragon Belshallam bursts from its lair in the eastern courtyard and flies up to perch on top of the donjon to the north, looking down at the figures floating below. Behind it rises the ominous shape of the black star tower.
The dragon spouts burst of dark fire across the courtyard that leeches the life out of everything it touches. Groot withers under the assault and his shriveled husk comes crashing down over the southern doors to the courtyard. The dead treant lands on Sial and Asyra and pinning the count beneath its branches. While the two paladins weather the dragon fire, the floating body of Princess is reduced to bleached.
“Nooo!” Irabeth roars, her eyes blazing with rage. She hefts her lance and flies around to flank the dragon from its left, shouting “Zorraath ziimûrz!”
Arlynn approaches Belshallam from the right, where she is joined by Laori. At Egan’s direction, Barky lands next to the withered trunk of Groot, lifts the tree up off of Sial, and hurls it at the dragon. Unfortunately, the wood simply bounces off the creature’s scaly snout.
The last remaining gargoyle barrels into Zandu and drives the both of them through the second story of the castle’s south wing, where they land into a hallway.
Slim tosses the Vindicator to a confused Asyra. “Hold this for me, I’ll be right back.”
The rogue deftly parkours up Barky and the side of the building to leap through the hole after the gargoyle.
Egan casts air walk on Ashla, who starts advancing up and out towards the donjon.
With enemies closing in on all sides, Belshallam turns himself invisible.
Death from Above
Inside the castle’s second story, the gargoyle grabs Zandu and shakes him around and claws at him with three arms while attacking Slim with his claws. Together, though, the sorcerer and rogue are able to bring him down, though the Zandu’s arcane power is almost depleted.
Outside, Belshallam reappears flying high overhead. He wheels about, dives down, and sprays the characters in the courtyard with black fire. Egan and Zandu reply with with lightning spells, but to their horror the magic has no effect.
The two paladins, Arlynn with her greatsword and Irabeth with her lance, charge up into the sky to attack the dragon, who fights back with teeth and claws.
Down below, Zandu offers to cast fly on Slim, but the the rogue instead convinces the sorcerer to teleport him over the dragon and drop him onto its back to kill it up close. Zandu thinks this is insane and so is happy to be a part of it.
But when the gnoll casts the spell, he feels like he’s being slammed into a brick wall. He is left standing in the castle, head spinning. But Slim, however, experiences something different. The room and Zandu seem to recede off into the distance as the rogue feels himself stretched further and further across a dark void and squeezed painfully in into a smaller and smaller space. As the room fades from view, Slim glimpses a terrifying visage leering at him from the darkness—a face with ashen white skin, its lips torn away, an eye gouged out, and its skin stretched pack tick against its skull by frightful piercings. Before the rogue can recover from the stark terror of that moment, he snaps back into place, emerging from the shadow beneath Edgar’s wings as the terrified bird flies over the dragon.
The shadow dancer falls onto Belshallam’s back, but fails to gain purchase. He starts sliding down its sleek scales, losing his rapier in the process, but manages to cling to the dragon’s tail. He spies his sword caught between two of the spines on the dragon’s scales. He struggles to climb towards it.
The dragon roars, its cry sending shudders of terror through all who see it, save the the paladins. Zandu panics and attempts to teleport, crashing into another invisible brick wall. The sorcerer then hits himself with fly and flees across the lake to the barbican, where he huddles for the rest of the battle.
Meanwhile, Arlynn hacks at the dragon, nearly severing the creature’s tail.
“Hey, watch where you’re swinging that thing!” Slim shouts it.
“If you fall, we’ll catch you!” Arlynn cries back, still slashing at the dragon with her bloodied sword.
Talking at Dragons
Bleeding from a dozen wounds, Belshallam suddenly raises its claws meekly. “Mercy! You can have all my riches if only you spare my life.”
“The only mercy you’ll get is a swift death!” Irabeth roars, leveling her lance, but Arlynn holds out a hand to restrain her.
“Steady, Irabeth,” the senior paladin says. The half-orc whirls on her, but the murder in her eyes quickly fades under Arlynn’s gaze and she lowers her trembling lance point.
The Bekyar woman nods at their scaly foe. “If the dragon wishes to treat with us, let him speak—on the ground. Now.”
Together, the dragon, Slim, Arlynn, and a mortified Irabeth descend to the courtyard, where they are quickly surrounded by the rest of the party. Slim recovers his rapier and perches on the dragon’s neck with his sword ready, while Arlynn challenges it, sword raised.
“Tell us, wyrm, why should we spare you?” the paladin demands.
“You can take my entire treasure hoard!” the dragon says. “And I have information, I can help you!”
“He’s one of the lords of Scarwall,” Ashla says, “we need to kill him to break the curse.”
“She speaks the truth,” Arlynn says. “Unless you know another way the curse can be undone?”
The dragon looks like it wishes to speak, but stays silent.
“Just kill him!” Ashla insists.
Slim shakes his head. “Hold your horses—sorry Irabeth—he could know something important.”
“Tell us about Mithrodar, then,” Arlynn asks, growing frustrated.
Again the dragon falls silent.
“He’s under some kind of enchantment,” Egan surmises. “He couldn’t tell us even if he wanted to.”
“Then we have no other choice,” Arlynn says, raising her sword.
At this, Belshallam launches himself into the air while spewing out a sickening black cloud that envelops the adventurers, leeching the strength from their bones and blinding Arlynn, Asyra, and Remmy. Only Slim, on the beast’s back, is unaffected, and instead clings for dear life as the dragon rises higher and higher.
Irabeth swoops up into the air after the creature, while Slim decides that he needs to bring it down. Belshallam roars and snaps at the half-orc paladin, while Slim tries to find a weak spot in its scales.
Blinded but determined to join the fray, Arlynn floats up towards the sound of battle, but misjudges the height and starts swinging her sword through thin air a good thirty feet below the fight.
Finally finding a loose scale, Slim spears the Belshallam through its skull with his rapier and its lifeless body begin tumbling end over end towards the ground.
“Take my hand!” Irabeth shouts, reaching for Slim as she zooms past. His hand brushes against her gauntleted fingertips, but then they are too far apart. The half-orc wobbles in the air in a wide arc, trying to turn herself around for another pass.
As it plummets, the dead dragon crashes into Arlynn, who gets tangled up in its bulk. Thinking she is being attacked, the Bekyar woman excitedly fights back.
“There’s no escape, you treacherous monster!” she shouts.
“Arlynn, it’s dead!” Slim shouts. “Fly me out of here!”
“What?” the senior paladin calls back, sword clanging against dragon scale.
Below, Egan wildshapes into a huge air elemental and turns himself into a cushion of air that catches the falling corpse and its two unwilling passengers. The druid gently settles all three to the ground, while up above purple lightning streaks across the sunset sky.